President Trump will announce his choice of a nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday, February 2nd. For every president, such an important decision can say much about that president’s aspirations, and so garners great public interest. But this time it should be of even greater significance and interest.

Although the President has just assumed office, he already faces a serious deficit in his ability to lead. Neither during his transition nor in his inaugural address did he make any commitment to work to unite all of us Americans in addressing our country’s problems. If he believes, as he seems to, that to achieve political success over the next four years (including reelection) he needs to satisfy only those who elected him, then he will fail to live up to the noble office he holds.

All the same, at this point, when he has yet to clarify his political vision and to detail his proposed policies, he is deserving not of our distrust, but of our hope that he will see his way to being, as much as possible, a President for all of us to look up to.

His pending choice for the Supreme Court is an opportunity for the President to do just that. As matters now stand, the Democrats in the Senate will act to defeat any nominee that they see as too conservative, which the President has previously promised to choose. Such a confrontation can only lead for the time being to a Supreme Court stalemated 4-4 in its most controversial cases, together with a country frustrated anew by a federal government that often only hobbles itself.

But Trump has a way forward to avoid such political déjà vu. There is a nominee he can name that will immediately alleviate the political tension and reassure the country as a whole. That nominee is Judge Merrick Garland, who was President Obama’s (ignored) nominee during his last year.

Renominating Garland would be seen as a gesture of both respect for the former President and due regard for Democrats and progressives. It would also have to be seen as a (just) rebuke of Senate Republicans in having turned their backs on their constitutional duties for the past several months. These effects would in turn foster a renewed hope that Trump will try to be open to every American’s views and concerns, whatever his or her political and cultural stripes.

As well, Trump would thereby reaffirm the prerogative of our presidents, including him, to name nominees to the Court and to expect, if they are truly qualified, to see them confirmed, which has usually been the constitutional norm in this country.

In all respects, the pick of Merrick Garland would help restore some sense of political balance and degree of mutual respect in Washington, which has been sorely lacking in recent years. I would think the American people would cheer that outcome and promise. Certainly the rest of the world would.

The only downside from Trump’s point of view would be that a Justice Garland is probably unlikely to undo Roe v. Wade. But frankly I have doubts about Trump’s resolve, let alone need, to accomplish that. In particular, I believe his trying to do that, especially right now, will only set off a renewed culture war that will only undermine his economic agenda, which is what he really wants to accomplish during his time in office and was the principal reason many voted for him.

In sum, by renominating Judge Garland, Trump can in a single stroke refine his presidency in a way that encourages, rather than further discourages, the impression that he wants all Americans to see and accept him as a president for every American. To pass on such an opportunity of statesmanship for a third time would be a palpable blunder. And history suggests that given a president’s divided and relatively short time in office, he can barely afford just one of those.

Featured image courtesy of Library of Congress. Crowd seeks admittance to opening of U.S. Supreme Court, 10/3/38.

About The Author

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Bruce K. Adler is a retired lawyer whose legal practice involved products liability, commercial law, civil liberties, and constitutional law. He remains active in community affairs and local planning. His academic interests include the philosophy of law, social and political philosophy, and the history and philosophy of science. He is fascinated by the “problems” of consciousness and free will. And he feels inspired to do some serious writing on at least law and its related topics.